U.S. expels Cuban diplomats over mysterious 'attacks'


The Trump administration ordered the expulsion of 15 officials from Cuba's embassy in Washington over the government's failure to protect 22 U.S. citizens who were subjected to a series of unexplained health attacks in recent months. The secretary of state clarified that he meant to "maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba", even amid the seemingly tense investigation.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the latest decision was made "due to Cuba's failure to take appropriate steps to protect American personnel in Cuba, targeted in mysterious attacks that damaged their health".

In a message on Facebook, the embassy's top official, career diplomat Scott Hamilton, said he would also be leaving.

The 15 Cuban diplomats being expelled is about the same percentage being withdrawn from the U.S. Embassy, officials said, though the actual number of personnel ordered to leave Havana has not been disclosed.

"Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe USA citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba", the United States said in a formal travel warning.

The latest move by the Trump administration is a blow to former President Barack Obama's legacy to improve relations between the USA and Cuba, two Cold War foes who did not have diplomatic relations until the Obama administration restored them.

The reductions are just the latest step in the rapidly unraveling US-Cuban relations that were restored in 2015 by former President Barack Obama.

The official also said that the American diplomats the U.S.is withdrawing from its embassy in Havana will be out of Cuba by the end of this week.

Neither U.S. nor Cuban officials have been able to explain the cause of the illnesses, and the FBI and Cuban law enforcement agencies are cooperating in an investigation.

Speaking to reporters in Havana, Rodriguez said Cuba was strongly protesting the expulsions and that the United States was not providing sufficient information to Cuban investigators.

More news: Ball pulling son out of Southern Cal high school
More news: Netanyahu says Israel will reject PA reconciliation unless it recognizes Israel
More news: British Airline 'Monarch' Collapses Operation, Triggers Largest Peacetime Repatriation

Parrilla told the UN General Assembly last month that his country has found no evidence to support United States claims that diplomats were harmed due to attacks.

Cuba said on Friday that the United States decision to withdraw its diplomatic personnel is a "hasty decision" that will affect bilateral relations between the former Cold War enemies. According to the official source, Cuba informed him that it will continue probing on this issue, "and we will continue to cooperate with them in that effort".

The U.S. Department of State is investigating the attacks, which allegedly harmed the health of 22 American diplomats, and chose to maintain "equitable staffing levels" in U.S. and Cuban embassies during the investigation, Reuters reported.

The decision came as the USA told citizens not to visit Cuba and after it removed more than half of its staff from the Cuban capital of Havana.

The U.S. says at least 21 American government workers in Havana have been attacked.

On Tuesday, a State Department official said they had confirmed an additional American diplomat was affected by an attack back in January but had only been re-examined recently.

Still, the administration has pointedly not blamed Cuba for perpetrating the attacks, and officials have spent weeks weighing how to minimize the risk for Americans in Cuba without unnecessarily harming relations or falling into an adversary's trap.

The US government first acknowledged the attacks in August, after the State Department expelled two Cuban diplomats from Washington over safety concerns, The Hill magazine reported.

Canada and the United States have responded in drastically different ways to weird attacks on diplomatic personnel in Havana, with the Americans pursuing a hardline approach that escalated Tuesday.